When Joe told his friend Jocelyn that he was seeing Dr. Dold, she laughed. Joe was affronted.
“Is it that funny to consult a shrink, I mean… therapist?”
“No. Sorry.” Then an extended after-giggle. “Sorry.”
Joe went anyway. His life was so empty of stress he felt abnormal, and could bear it no longer.
“My life is empty,” he told Dr. Dold, “or at least, lacking in certain things which others have.”
“How was your relationship with your parents, growing up?” asked the therapist, a middle-aged specialist in childhood trauma. The more suppressed the trauma, the better he liked it.
“Did they split up?”
“What work did they do?”
“They were scientists. Still are. Quietly devoted to their research.”
Dr. Dold tapped a note into his iPad. “So you were neglected.”
“No, they shared their enthusiasm with me.”
“No, I was an only child, they were older parents. Being caught up in their careers they had married late.”
“Ah.” He tapped another note. What did ah mean, Joe wondered?
“You felt inferior?”
“Them. Scientists. You’re literary, aren’t you?”
“Well, yes. They used to read stories to me. That’s what got me into storytelling, I guess.”
“So would you say you live in a fantasy world?”
“Yes and no. What writer doesn’t?” He paused. “What person doesn’t?”
“Were you late learning to read?”
“So, this immersion in stories is an escape from social anxiety.”
“Is it? I didn’t say I had social anxiety.”
“Denial,” murmered Dr. Dold, pecking again. “And do you have suicidal feelings?”
“They don’t either, as far as I know.”
“I meant … do you have friends?” (Avoidance, he pecked.)
“What are your relationships like?”
“Untroubled. That’s why my life feels empty. It contains only one kind of thing: pleasant days and good fortune. It’s like I’m missing the true soap opera of life, the drama of dysfunction, disability and ‘difference’.”
“You are indeed! Tell me more,” said the therapist, leaning forward.
“When I meet friends for a drink, although I’m a professional storyteller I can’t match their tales of hysterical breakdown, epic strife, online betrayal, trolls, rivals, enemies.”
Dr. Dold shook his head in compassion. “We’ll leave it there. Come back the same time next week.”
Next week, Dr. Dold asked about Joe’s work.
“Is your workplace diversified and inclusive?”
“Sure. I work from home, with all the diversion I want and including any projects I want. I also work for a magazine in an office two days a week.”
“Is it insufficiently diversified and inclusive?”
“No. It’s fine. Except for having to attend meetings about those very things.”
“And that’s not fine?” Dr. Dold’s bushy eyebrows shot up to his bushy hair. (Hypo-intersectional, he wrote.)
“Well… it’s a bit tiresome. They call them ‘awareness sessions’. I call it re-education camp.”
“Do you fit in?”
“Hell no, I zone out. It’s when I dream up my best thriller plots.”
“Do the others in the meeting notice that you’ve zoned out?”
“No. Too busy weeping and wailing and pledging ‘allyship’ to persons experiencing… whatever.” He stopped to consider. “Although the leader did say I contribute nothing. He says I don’t ‘share’.”
“Nothing to share. No trauma, anxiety, disability. I told you. That’s why I’m here. What’s wrong with me?”
At the next session Dr. Dold laid out a therapy plan. “Keep a trauma-diary,” he instructed. “You need to uncover your hidden PTSD. The hidden kind is the worst. It invades your mind-body, a silent virus taking over brain cells with happiness-fantasies. These multiply, until you live in a world of irresponsible contentment.”
Joe went home and followed these instructions. The diary he started however soon blended with his usual diary, which consisted of prospective plot outlines. He now came up with a new thriller, and bounced out of bed each morning anticipating the joy of writing it. It grew of its own volition. He showed Dr. Dold his plot notes (having no other notes in his therapy-diary).
“But I don’t understand these entries,” said Dr. Dold. “Where are your feelings of marginalization and depression?”
“My feelings are that my new story is an allegory about a swarm of ships meeting another swarm of ships on the high seas, which are shown on ancient maps as the Ocean of Words. Marginalization is indicated on the margin of the map, just here… see? It’s a battle of armadas, which as I’m sure you know means ships that are armed. There’s Allyship, Membership, Readership (because you have to make readers “see themselves”), and their retinue of Relationships. There’s Stewardship, and Their Worships: the lords of media correctness who, instead of mediating the moderate middle, fall off the edge of the map into an underworld of demons. The Island of Nature in the centre of the map is a flowery land of mild weather and balanced viewscapes.” Joe became increasingly excited as he described his story.
“You are mad,” said Dr. Dold.
“’Mad’? Isn’t that a rather non-technical term?”
“And your madness is overlaid with political non-correctness. Why are you even writing this book?”
“Because writing it gives me pleasure.”
“Pleasure? What’s pleasure got to do with anything?” Dr. Dold frowned in astonishment. “I think you need medication.” He reached for a notepad and pen (real ones, which astonished Joe in turn). “Here, take this to the pharmacy. Today. It’s an emergency.”